When is an RS Turbo not an RS Turbo? Well, if you unbolt the turbo and throw it away, you’ll find out…
Series Two RS Turbo without the turbo, but a 'charger instead.
Remember the days when turbocharging was a big deal? The 1980s were a proper turbo boom-time, as manufacturers found new and exciting ways to make boost viable as an everyday option. And it wasn’t like it is today, when everything’s turbocharged because it helps get emissions down; having a whistlin’ snail used to be a badge of honour. Stretching way back through the mists of time, early turbocharging was a real dark art; the road cars that pioneered the everyman turbo – the BMW 2002, the Oldsmobile Jetfire, the Chevrolet Corvair Monza – were almost wilfully scary, lulling you into a misguided sense of ease with their yawning chasms of turbo lag before suddenly coming on boost mid-corner and forcing you to make your peace with the almighty while simultaneously jettisoning your
breakfast through the nearest available orifice. These bonkers little boost devices symbolised bravery, in that they were temperamental and could grenade your engine without a moment’s hesitation, along with a certain thickness of wallet (to pay for all the rebuilds and the insurance) and, most of all, spiky exhilarating thrust. It was a thrilling, glowing Pandora’s Box bolted on to unleash the inner potential of internal combustion via some kind of voodoo. That’s why the word was glued to the hairychested variants of so many hot hatches in the 1980s and ’90s: Ford Escort RS Turbo, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Fiat Uno Turbo, MG Maestro Turbo – it was a thing to be damned proud of. You still find the word ‘turbo’ written on Gillette razors and Ikea clothes racks and Cillit Bang today, it has a proper halo effect.
It’s a bit of an old switcheroo to remove the turbo from one of these iconic hot hatches then, isn’t it? If you unbolt
the boostmaker and dump it in the bin, does that not irreparably tarnish the car’s inherent character? Ah, not necessarily… for what you’re seeing here on these pages, if it has a name, is an Escort RS Supercharged.
Yep, you can probably guess what’s happened here. But before there’s any wailing and gnashing of teeth from the concours purists, rest assured that Peter Clark didn’t belligerently mutilate an RS Turbo just for the badness of it; no, in fact he saved it from an unpleasant fate of rotting away to nothing in a field.
“I always did little bits to cars when I was younger, lowering and exhausts and so on, but nothing major as I never had the money,” he recalls. “I always loved the S2 RS Turbo in particular, but I could never afford to buy one.” But then this one presented itself at an affordable price and, now in his forties, Peter was able to realise the dream.
The reason that it was affordable, however, was that it had essentially been abandoned and left to crumble back into the base elements from whence it came. “I bought it from eBay, and it was in a very sorry state,” he remembers with a grimace. “It had sat in a field for eight years, the engine was seized, the body was rotten…” But it was an RS Turbo, that was the main thing, and given that he’s a mechanic running a workshop and bodyshop, Peter had the skills, the tools and the venue in which to effect the Escort’s rebirth.
“It came with white rear lights, which I got rid of, although I kept the ’90-spec spoiler – and basically it was just a case of cutting out all the rust and welding in new panels,” he says. Right, simple as that eh? Actually, it took a hell of a lot of elbow grease, as you can imagine what an eighties Ford’s undergarments would be looking like
after the best part of a decade moistly communing with nature. A lot of fresh metal and replacement panels were drafted in, although Peter was keen to try to retain as much of the original steel as possible; the new panels were chopped up to fill the holes rather than grafted in wholesale. The straightness of the shell now is testament to the man’s skills, and of course finishing it in Radiant Red is a period-perfect touch.
The problem of that seized engine required a bit of decision-making – would it be salvageable, or should he source another standard-spec boosted CVH to bring the RS back to its roots? In the end, Peter opted for a bit of lateral thinking, and we’re very glad that he did: “I wanted more power, and I wanted to do something a bit different, so I decided to fit a supercharger,” he grins. And that’s all the justification you need really, isn’t it? “I love the blower, it gives you a faint but noticeable whine, and the car just pulls constantly. I bought the supercharger from TTS in Silverstone – they’re the approved Rotrex dealer for the UK.” And what’s more impressive is that it isn’t just a standard-spec 1.6-litre CVH that he’s bolted it to… after careful consideration, Peter’s built up a pretty hot 2.1-litre ZVH. Hidden away beneath that Stage 3 cylinder head are bespoke Kent cams and a set of C20LET pistons; fuelling’s taken care of by some meatier 650cc injectors, and there’s an OMEX 600 calling the shots and shuffling those binary digits into order. Working with a custom manifold and exhaust system and a vast intercooler, the Rotrex C30-94 supercharger allows the fireball motor to unleash a mighty peak of 234.7bhp, which is a hell of a percentage increase over stock. And of course, with a supercharger you don’t really have to worry about lag!
“TTS sell a Zetec fitting kit, but obviously that’s not exactly a bolt-on with a ZVH,” says Peter. “It would have positioned the charger in the way of the engine mount, so I made a bracket and fitted it to the sump where the air-con pump would be on the Zetec, and raised the alternator up so the supercharger sits neatly underneath it.” The whole install is incredibly neat, and Peter’s fastidiousness in keeping the engine bay clean really shows it all off. It wasn’t easy to get the whole thing running smoothly and reliably, as a couple of years of trial-and-error have ably demonstrated, but Peter now finds himself with a motor that is unique, clever, reliable, and – most important of all – hilariously powerful.
“I use the car daily in the summer, and it gets lots of attention,” he says, “people winding down windows at traffic lights, pointing at it as I drive past, chatting in petrol stations, and waving from passing cars. I love a run-what-you-brung too, it’s done a 15.3-second quarter at 98.54mph at Santa Pod.” Talk about fulfilling those childhood dreams! After many, many years of wishing, Peter’s found a way to own his favourite car; it wasn’t the easiest route in and it required a lot of hard work, but along the way he’s developed something that’s a real talking point. The notion of a supercharged RS Turbo is, by its very nature, a massive contradiction in terms, and that’s exactly what makes this car so brilliant.
A ‘Turbo without the turbo. How cunning is that?
“...what you’re seeing here on these pages, if it has a name, is an Escort RS Supercharged...”
It looks like an RS Turbo, but it’s missing one crucial component - the turbo! OCTOBER 2018
Looking gorgeous today in front of our cameras, you would never believe this RST was left rotting in a field for eight years!
Original alloys have been diamond cut for a familiar look with a twist - which is this car’s forte